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Career at crossroads but O'Neill willing to fight for spot

North Queensland premiership-winner Justin O'Neill admits he's at a crossroads in his career as he prepares to enter a 12th season in the NRL.

O'Neill is one of five players left from the club's premiership-winning 2015 squad following the departures of John Asiata (Broncos) and Gavin Cooper (retirement) in the off-season.

The 29-year-old has spent seven seasons at the Cowboys after making his NRL debut with Melbourne in 2010.

However, injuries and mixed form coinciding with the team's underwhelming performances in the past two seasons has left his long-term future uncertain, something the former Maroons flyer has come to terms with.

"In most players' careers they come to a crossroads and I think it's one for me [this year]," O'Neill told NRL.com.

"There are still a lot of things I have left to give to this team and the game. At times it's been hard wanting to or knowing that you could do better but not physically being able to do that.

"For me in the past it has been my knee, so this pre-season it's been nice to be able to compete in most sessions.

"No player wants to miss a session but sometimes injury can hinder or hold."

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A former Australian representative, O'Neill was once considered one of the elite outside backs in the game but is now battling the likes of Esan Marsters and Murray Taulagi for a starting spot at North Queensland.

Rather than concede defeat, O'Neill believes he can still give the Cowboys plenty of joy on the edge if he can get back to his near-best.

"I don't think age is definitely the be-all and end-all but it's just about accepting that I'm not as young as I used to be," he said.

"With old age comes certain things, the more I fight it the more it's not in my favour.

"It's been mentally and physically really good for me and an opportunity to see what I can do off the back of pre-season and to see what I can do this year. I'm looking forward to it."

O'Neill said the arrival of Payten had lit a fuse in the Cowboys squad, particularly in the backline, which struggled to fire under a faster game last season.

"I think everyone has taken it on with both hands and run with it," he said.

"In attack we want to see guys with speed like Hamiso [Tabui-Fidow] and Drinky [Scott Drinkwater], who is a creating playmaker, running off fast play-the-balls.

"Ryan Papenhuyzen has showed there's not much of him but he thrives in a fast-paced game.

"Most of the outside backs have trained on both sides, at wing and fullback … trialling to see where everyone fits in, but we're starting to see a more consistent backline."

O'Neill has been named in the centres for Saturday night's trial against the Broncos in Redcliffe.

Cowboys in 2021

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